WASHINGTON - National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin and VOA's Kurdish and Turkish Services contributed to this report.
The United Nations Security Council is set to meet Thursday to discuss the military operation in northeastern Syria that Turkey says is a "measured and responsible" anti-terror operation, while the mainly Kurdish fighters in the region appeal for help to "save our people from genocide."
Turkey launched its long-planned operation Wednesday aimed at taking out the Kurdish forces it sees as terrorists, but which most of the West views as key partners in the fight against Islamic State militants. The Turkish military operation began days after a surprise and widely criticized White House announcement that U.S. forces would withdraw from the region.
Turkish forces began with airstrikes and later sent in ground troops. Its defense ministry said in a statement Thursday that the operation continues successfully, without giving details.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said it "confronted an incursion attempt" by Turkish forces in Tal Halaf, and also a cell of Islamic State fighters in an area south of Ras al-Ain.
Ahead of the U.N. Security Council meeting, Reuters quoted a letter sent to the council by Turkey's U.N. Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu saying the operation "will only target terrorists and their hideouts, shelters, emplacements, weapons vehicles and equipment."
The Turkish Defense Ministry said the offensive is being undertaken in line with Security Council resolutions and international law provisions allowing Turkey a "right of self defense."
In a Washington Post op-ed published late Wednesday, Hemin Kobane, the SDF's liaison with the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, accused the United States of casting aside the Kurds and "leaving them to their fates at the hands of their mortal enemies."
Kobane cited the years of cooperation between U.S. and SDF forces in taking back territory from Islamic State, calling U.S. forces "our friends and brothers" against a common enemy.
"We hoped that the stability and freedom of the area under our control would offer a strategic stronghold for the future of the entire region. Our fellowship was a light of hope for the citizens of all of Syria. Unfortunately, yet once more, our foes in the region are conspiring to destroy our people."
A Syrian Democratic Forces tweet Thursday thanked a number of governments for "acting with honor" toward the people of northeastern Syria, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Britain, France and Germany. The United States was not included.
White House reaction
President Donald Trump said in a statement Wednesday the United States "does not endorse this attack" and made it clear to Turkey the operation is a "bad idea."
"Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place -- and we will hold them to this commitment," his statement said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denied that the United States had given Turkey a green light for the invasion. He told the public broadcast news program PBS NewsHour that after talking to Erdogan, "it became very clear that there were American soldiers that were going to be at risk and the president made a decision to put them in a place where they were out of harm's way."
Turkish airstrikes hit the town of Ras al-Ayn on the Syrian side of the border, local activists said. Smoke could be seen rising from area. The SDF said Turkish warplanes were hitting civilian areas with airstrikes, causing huge panic.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 15 people, including eight civilians, had been killed in the airstrikes. More than 40 other people had been wounded, according to the Britain-based monitoring group, which has a network of sources across Syria.
A source in Turkey told the VOA Turkish Service that mortar shells fired from Tal Abyad, Syria, damaged homes in Akcakale, Turkey. No one was injured or killed in the attack.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have strongly criticized the U.S. pull-out that paved the way for the Turkish operation, saying the United States would be abandoning Syrian Kurds who had fought the Islamic State terror group alongside U.S. troops.
"Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration. This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Twitter Wednesday, using an acronym for Islamic State. He added that he will lead an "effort in Congress to make Erodgan pay a heavy price."
'Big trading partner'
Trump has insisted he is not abandoning Kurds who fought with U.S. and coalition partners against Islamic State. At the same time, he has also praised Turkey, inviting President Erdogan to visit the White House next month, while calling Ankara a "big trading partner" and crediting the Turkish government with "helping me to save many lives at Idlib Province."
WATCH: US to stay out of conflict
Trump Insists US Must Get Out of Syria, Other Wars video player. Embed Copy
In his statement Wednesday, Trump said Turkey is now "responsible for ensuring all ISIS fighters being held captive remain in prison and that ISIS does not reconstitute in any way, shape, or form."
U.S. military officials confirmed that they repositioned about 50 U.S. special force members, who had been operating along the Turkey-Syria border, out of harm's way.